Olympus House Has Fallen Down – Head-to-head review

WHD vs OHF

What are the chances that two similar films are released within the space of a few months? I haven’t the foggiest, but it seems a shame that said films running the terrorists-capture-the-white-house formula were not released at the exact same time in order to engage in a box office weekend rumble.  But fear not, reader! Now that these movies have migrated into home media territory, it’s time to pit them against each other and see which one truly is the best action romp in the Presidential Palace. Will it be Emmerich or Fuqua? Tatum or Butler? Foxx or Eckhart? There’s only one way to find out…

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the head-to-head clash between Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, a face-off which I have oh so wittily dubbed Olympus House Has Fallen Down, which coincidentally could be set to the tune of “London Bridge Is Falling Down” if the need for a theme tune was to arise. Perhaps someone should make an equivalent British film with that title…hmmm…but I digress. Let’s lock and load, don a steely expression, and dive in.

The plot of Olympus Has Fallen is entirely run-of-the-mill and I really struggled to find moments that I hadn’t seen before. Bar the outlandish setting, everything is cut-and-pasted from superior action films; there’s the lone gruff hero, unwavering president, slick (foreign) antagonist, bickering bureaucrats, and the inevitable threat of nuclear war – zzzzz… The story arc of hero Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is so dull, it can be summed as follows – disgraced, reassigned, redemption through extreme circumstances. It plays out like a drab video-game. White House Down doesn’t fare too much better with its story either, again being fairly predictable and as full of holes as Swiss cheese. Interestingly enough, while I cannot fully recall the finer points of the story (I remember it seemed too convoluted), that was not to the detriment of my enjoyment of the film. Both films are unequivocally patriotic and therefore the end outcome is never in doubt. America Wins. America prevails. Terrorists can suck it. I couldn’t help but think of Team America‘s thumping theme song, “America (F*** Yeah)”.

The invincible Gerard Butler massacres some generic terrorists with a handgun.

The invincible Gerard Butler massacres some generic terrorists with a handgun.

With narratives plagued by predictability, it’s up to the characters to make us care about their plight, and Olympus Has Fallen fails to lay down any sort of connection to the audience. It opens with a prologue that ends on what should be an emotional thunderclap. We are introduced to the President (Aaron Eckhart), his wife and son, and Mike Banning, head of the security detail tasked with protecting POTUS. It’s not long before a freak accident on the road results in the death of Mrs President, with Mike Banning (and pretty much everyone else) unable to save her. This event is there to drive the main character later on, his guilt propelling him to do all he can to save the man he let down. But I didn’t care. So short is the introduction that there’s no time to invest. The brash way of dealing with relationships continues when during a moment of calm, Banning has the chance to talk to his wife. He struggles to say anything beyond mundane chit-chat and promptly ends the conversation after she tells him, “I love you”. By contrast Roland Emmerich handles the relationships in his film a little bit better. More time is given to dialogue, and cheesy though it may be at times, it’s also funny with a fair bit of heart, exemplified in John Cale’s (Channing ‘all over your’ Tatum) exchanges with his estranged daughter. Also, Jamie Foxx’s is possibly the coolest President in cinema history, spending the second half of the film running around in a suit and a pair of fat sneakers. Not necessarily relatable, but he’s great fun and he knows what Youtube is.

Helicopter casualties are unusually high in both films.

Helicopter casualties are unusually high in both films.

These are action films, so what of the action? Antoine Fuqua really steps up to the plate to try to best the considerable credentials of Emmerich’s impressive resume; Independence Day, 2012, and The Patriot among others. He errs on the violent side, not afraid to show us pedestrians gunned down, and government officials being shot in the head. It adds nothing though, apart from the occasional wince, and is trumped by the impressive explosions. In White House Down it is very apparent that Emmerich is well-versed in blockbuster action, delivering absurd and bombastic set-pieces, the sheer stupidity of which comes off as quite entertaining. I don’t think you’ve ever seen the President firing a rocket launcher from his limo before!

"Hey kids, hit me up on the interwebs!"

“Hey kids, hit me up on the interwebs!”

Overall, it is the tone that separates these two films and contributes largely to their individual success (or lack of it). White House Down is completely tongue-in-cheek, through and through, from action to dialogue. It accepts its implausible premise and runs with it. Screenwriter James Vanderbilt, who penned the quips for Amazing Spider-man, provides equally snappy one-liners here to hilarious effect and I was pleasantly surprised at how often this film made me laugh. Olympus Has Fallen is weighed down by its pseudo-gritty script trying to be dark through coarse language while frequently missing the mark. Towards the end of the film I found myself giggling at a particularly ham-fisted line growled by Gerard Butler, and imagined the figure of Antoine Fuqua looming over me wagging an accusatory finger and telling me not to laugh at what was no doubt a cinematic work desperate to be taken seriously. I paid him no mind however, and gleefully chuckled again. The film had tried to land me with a flimsy grasp and had failed. It had lost me.

Ultimately, a serious approach to a film involving baddies occupying the president’s residence falls flat under the weight of its grizzled demeanour, while a silly over-the-top approach rises to the heights of enjoyable action romp. If you’re looking for a blockbusting good time where Americans blow up their own monuments, get your kicks from White House DownOlympus really has fallen.

The Cult of Burgundy – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy review

Anchorman PosterThere was a time when Judd Apatow was not a well-known comedy film producer, and the likes of Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, and Paul Rudd were not as famous as they are today, especially here across the pond. This was a time before the release of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (to give it its full title). After said release, the film received middling reviews and did well at the box office, but it has only been in the following years that it has graduated to the rank of cult comedy thanks in part to DVD sales and word-of-mouth, particularly in this country, but what makes it cult material?

Anchorman is the story of Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), an immensely popular San Diego newscaster, in the TV news heyday of the 1970s. His world and the world of his all-male news team is turned upside down when a female newscaster in the shape of Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) joins the channel. Comedy antics ensue, all culminating in the coverage of the birth of a panda – “Panda Watch!”. While the film could be considered a collection of comedy sketches with recurring characters, the plot knits these together convincingly, even allowing room for the more absurd moments to flourish.

Unlike our titular hero, I cannot say that the story is “compelling and rich” (one of my favourite lines), but that is hardly the point. Comedies of this ilk rely on the interplay between their various oddball characters, who punctuate every well-chosen scene with their humuorous exchanges. Ron Burgundy himself is a man very much grounded in his time; sexist, vain, and arrogant, but he can really turn a phrase. His dialogue is peppered with line after line of bizarre exclamations and juvenile wisdom, each one played for laughs to increase their quotability. I am not entirely sure how much of the finished film is improv and how much is the careful writing of Ferrell and director Adam McKay, because you get the feeling that the actors (a large amount of which are talented comedy performers) were given freedom to just go with it. Regardless of the method, the result is some sharp comedy.

Anchorman News Team

“News team! Freeze-frame!”

From his enigmatic intro at the very start of the film, it’s clear that Burgundy carries the film and he might very well be Ferrell’s best comedy creation. He perfectly inhabits the role in every way and is a commanding presence throughout, perhaps due to his glorious Tom Selleck facial hair. Someone who deserves a large amount of the plaudits is Christina Applegate, whose performance as the independent and ambitious Veronica is easily a match for Ferrell’s cocky Burgundy. They work well as a comedy duo, and share one of the best scenes where they insult each other while the news credits roll, unbeknownst to the viewing population. Hilarious stuff. The news team, which includes Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and David Koechner, (Brian, Brick, and Champ respectively) are all excellent characters and display another ingredient for cult film success – strangely endearing characters, even if they are closer to caricatures.

It’s these traits that make Anchorman an entertaining comedy film, acquiring new devotees over the years. I am one of them, and while not ready to dress up in a garish suit and attend a fan-festival, I could easily fill up quite a bit of space on here going through some of my favourite gags/scenes; the news brawl, the burrito incident, ‘Afternoon Delight’, pick-up attempts, practically everything with Baxter, “Bear Fight!”, and so on and so forth. It’s silly, quote-ready, and more importantly, very funny. Once it’s tickled your funny bone, you’ll be hard pressed not to quote along with the rest of us.

This review goes out to Paul, who has bugged me on many occasions to review this film, I hope the delay hasn’t left you in a glass case of emotion. If you have any suggestions of films for me to write about, I’d love to hear them. You can email (kyleonfilm@gmail.com), tweet, or facebook me and I’ll endeavour to reply as soon as I can.

You stay classy, blog readers!